Home > Real Life > The Oral History of the Screen Savers, Part 1

The Oral History of the Screen Savers, Part 1

For me, it started sometime around 2003, when I got interested in a program called The Screen Savers on a cable channel called TechTV — may it rest in peace. But for them, it began in 1998, with a network called ZDTV. However, from what I’m told, the Screen Savers I knew were largely the same as those that began the project.

TSS premiered alongside its network, as one of the channel’s flagship programs. Consisting of an hour (and sometimes longer) of tech news and discussion each week day, filmed live, it offered an entirely unique format.

But that doesn’t hardly do it justice. The show was more than just its content and format, it was its people. People like Leo Laporte, Patrick Norton, Jessica Corbin, Sarah Lane, Kevin Rose, Dan Huard, Yoshi DeHerrera, Roger Chang, and Robert Heron. With all of that genius together, the show was really something unique. The nature of the daily, live format allowed for the up-to-date news and information that makes or breaks technology news providers.

I could go on further to describe the show itself, but suffice it to say that it was unquestionably one of the finest shows I’ve ever watched.

Now, when ZDTV changed its name to TechTV, and when The Screen Savers got a new set, it was always for the better. But in 2004, when Comcast (cable company and owner of G4, the formerly gaming-focused channel) acquired TechTV, things went bad. Comcast had already dropped TechTV from its line-up in many areas because of perceived competition between it and G4, although they had very different markets. Nonetheless, with the acquisition of TechTV, Comcast decided to ostensibly merge it with G4, creating the originally named G4TechTV.

However, from the word “go” on the merger, things were headed South. The very first casualty was Leo Laporte. Despite being an exceedingly personable and likable host, he ended up out the door. Reading up on the situation, I’ve found there are conflicting reports stating that he left over contract disputes or that he just felt like leaving, among others. My understanding is that Comcast essentially didn’t want him around on the show (I guess he wasn’t hip enough?), so he had a “resign or get fired” choice. He chose the former.

It didn’t really matter, because mere months after the merger, which The Screen Savers had so far ridden out with only a line-up change, Comcast announced that it was laying off most of the former TechTV staff and dropping the TechTV part of the channel’s name, so it would once again be just G4. Most every major figure on TSS was given the boot. One notable exception to this was Patrick Norton, who (I believe) smelled what was coming, and decided to stay behind in San Francisco when Comcast moved production of TSS to Los Angeles a few months before the layoffs.

And those Screen Savers who “survived” the shake-up were promoted to hosting duties, in what I can only conceive was a mad grab to keep an audience that Comcast seemed intent on driving away. To further this effort, Comcast renamed the show to (I kid you not) Attack of the Show and changed the format from being focused on tech news to being more of a variety show. Now, I had stopped watching the show at this point, but it came to my attention that during May 2005, the last vestiges of the old cast left the show.

In time, AotS would come to symbolize the current state of G4: horribly conflicted on its true identity and market. Although it still claims to be focused on gaming and technology, the current state of G4 reminds me of what would result if Spike TV and TechTV had gotten together. The current lineup for G4 includes such gems as The Man Show and Ninja Warrior, a Japanese reality show where normal folks attempt “ninja-like” acts like lifting heavy things

This interregnum after the sundering of The Screen Savers was a dark time indeed, but of late things have begun to look up substantially. More on that on Monday.

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Categories: Real Life
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